Chatpal, Kashmir, India

Gujjar is a unique and significant ethnic group of Jammu and Kashmir. They are dependent largely on cattle, goat, sheep and horse keeping. There is no unanimity among the social scientists about their origin and arrival in India. Some scholars are of the opinion that they are of for­eign stock representing pastoral nomads from the steppe grasslands of Central Asia, who entered India either with the Huns or a little later.

Some of them are of the opinion that the Gujjars are the descendants of Kushan and the Yuchi tribes which are considered to be the tribes of Eastern Tatars (Russia). In the opinion of a sizable number of social scientists, archaeolo­gists and linguistics, they are the descendants of Gurjis (Georgians) who inhabit a territory between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains.

Around the 4th and the 5th century AD, they occupied the territory around Mount Abu, the Peninsula of Kathiawad (Gujarat), and the adjacent hilly tracts of the Aravallis. Later on facing serious drought con­ditions, they migrated from the South-Western parts of Rajasthan and occupied the plains of Punjab. Subsequently, they occupied the green pas­tures of the Shiwaliks and the Himalayas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Gujri language is now recognized to be a form of the Rajasthani lan­guage. Their language is also known as Parimu or Hindki and is wholly different from the Kashmiri and the Dogri languages. They rarely intermix with the Kashmiris though they are similarly Muslim by religion. In appearance, the Gujjars are sharp-featured  & tall race. They are simple, less educated and inoffensive people. Their good faith is proverbial and they are generous people.

The Gujjar-Bakarwal community is recognized under the Scheduled Tribe category in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. The Gujjar community enjoys an Other Backward Class (OBC) status in ten states including Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra. Their counterparts in Himachal Pradesh are entitled to forest land under the Forest Rights Act 2006.This central Act was however not applicable nor implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 14 years. It became applicable to J&K only after 31st October, 2019 after abrogation of Article 370 thereby recognizing the rights of Gujjar-Bakarwals over forest land for habitation or self-cultivation or livelihood for the first time.

In spring season, the pastures are plenti­ful and good in the areas of low and middle altitudes, while in the scorching heat of summers  good pastures are found in the north above 2700 m where melting of snow gives way to green pas­tures. Thus, both the winter and the summer zones are characterized by the availability of pasturage in a definite part of the year. This leads to the sea­sonal migration of the Gujjar-Bakarwals with their herds from the Siwaliks to the Middle and Greater Himalayas in summers and downward movement in winter season.

No Gujjar-Bakarwal has supported the Hurriyat in the 30 years of militancy and neither has even one member of the Gujjar-Bakarwal community taken up arms.Since the Bakarwal community moves to the upper reaches of the Himalayas during the summer months, they are like the eyes and ears of the Indian Army. Prior to the Kargil war,they provided the Indian Army with information about the invaders. The Gujjar-Bakarwal community also provides the pilgrims with maximum support during the Amarnath Yatra.

Gujjar-Bakarwals herd sheep and goat and are always on the move. This professional hazard makes them pay less attention to education (even though govt has put up mobile school scheme for them wherein schools follow them wherever they go), hygiene (being all the time busy with their livestock) and etiquettes (their life being too tough to worry about niceties).

All these factors combined give rise to an attitude that is in contrast to attitudes of settled people of Kashmir valley. Gujjar-Bakarwal do not marry into the Kashmiri Muslim population and as such gap exists for them culturally with Hindu population as with Kashmiri Muslims. People of plains in Kashmir have different and enhanced culture that has better societal etiquettes which have been developed over the centuries. As the country marches ahead on its path to development, the Gujjar-Bakarwal are also being included in the mainstream by means of various development schemes and initiatives which are bringing positive changes in the community of these nomadic tribals. 

Lt Col Pranav Mohotra

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